Social Scientist. v 5, no. 60 (July 1977) p. 13.


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SUBHA S BHATTACHARTA

The Indigo Revolt of Bengal

WHEN E W L Tower testified before the Indigo Commission in I8601 that ^not a chest of indigo reached England without being stained with human blood,5'2 it was an obvious overstatement effectively exposing the planters' unceasing greed and atrocity that roused tens of thousands of indigo peasants from meek passivity to the sternest defiance imaginable. The peasants who for, over half a century showed a forbearance that at times could be taken for timidity, seemed to have suddenly realized in 1859 that it would get them nowhere. The celebrated notice issued by Ashley Eden3, a Barasat magistrate^ marked the prelude to, what turned out in the next couple of years or so, to be a story of resistance by nearly five million indigo peasants throughout lower Bengal. Around this revolt avast literature has grown, much of it the squalid record of the planters' oppression. Like all other Indian peasant uprisings, the indigo revolt has given rise to important questions for scholars. Yet, certain tricky and interesting problems seem to have been dealt with only perfunctorily, if at all. The present article attempts to provide possible answers to some of them.

Sisir Kumar Ghosh, an arch-liberal of the nineteenth century, not only declared that the struggle of the indigo peasants was passive, but in his desire to prove the docility of the peasants went so far as to say that



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